The River Trail is part of the Schuylkill River Trail project, which when it's complete will stretch over 130 miles. This section with a trailhead in Valley Forge is approximately 21 miles from the Philadelphia city line, and it traverses fields, deep forest and newly gentrified industrial towns along its path. The paved trail follows the Schuylkill River and the Schuylkill Canal Towpath for most of its distance, and you'll see creeks, wildflowers and lush green ferns along the way. A wooden footbridge takes you over a creek, and you'll look across the river to homes whose backyards form the river's shoreline, where geese, ducks and dogs mingle at the water's edge on docks, among the reeds and under undulating weeping willow tree fronds.
Besides the Pawlings Road trailhead, you'll find several more on the trail where you can get water and food, use restrooms and regroup. Each town has its own particular charm, but the Bretzwood Trailhead at Valley Forge National Park is one of the most visited. With ample free parking, it is often the starting point or end of a long hike or bike ride as visitors linger to view the historic park and its many statues and memorials to the Revolutionary War.
The trail also has direct connections with other paths, including the Perkiomen Trail at Perkiomen Creek. Sullivan's Bridge, a 14-foot wide, 602-foot pedestrian and biking bridge connects the River Trail with the several trails laid out within Valley Forge National Park. Well-placed and clear signage helps keep you on track or inspires you to break away from the River Trail and explore another. Once called the "Philadelphia-Valley Forge Trail," this section of the Schuylkill River Trail still has signage that can be confusing, but you'll soon see other signage that assures you you're on the right track.
Whether you're planning to travel the entire River Trail from Philadelphia to its eventual end in Phoenixville and beyond, or hop on and off at one of the several trailheads scattered along its path, you'll enjoy the hike for its diversity, tranquility and charming towns.
This popular trail is used by runners, hikers, bicyclists, in-line skaters and wheelchair-users, and many people have their dogs with them, so it's important to keep an eye out for who's around you and keep your pup firmly leashed when you meet up with them. Keep to the right to let others pass.